Officially past the halfway point of the 2015 season, the math behind the standings and records are beginning to lock teams into their respective places. Franchises like the Chargers, Lions, and Browns will need a miracle to avoid a losing season, while the Patriots, Bengals, Panthers, and Broncos have all but solidified a playoff berth.
The same divisions that closed the first half of the season completely up-for-grabs — namely, the NFC East, NFC North, and AFC South — remained as such, while key wins by the Giants, Vikings, and Colts kept the pressure on the rest of their division opponents. In addition, both the Broncos and Packers enter Week 10 following a loss after holding a combined 13-1 record prior to Week 9.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
Certainly, ‘upsets’ can happen. Just not in New England. Facing a team returning from its bye week, the Patriots unleashed their usual attack on an opponent and made light work of the visiting Redskins in Week 9. Undefeated and barely tested, the Patriots keep rolling.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 2)
As if further proof was needed, the Cincinnati Bengals showed, once again, that they are on a mission to tear through the conference. With a Thursday Night Football win against the Browns in Week 9, Cincinnati improved to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. Clearly, the focus will soon shift to postseason positioning, so the only remaining goal for the regular season is trying to secure home field advantage through the playoffs.
3. Carolina Panthers (LW: 4)
Are the Carolina Panthers the team to beat in the NFC? After a home win against the Packers in Week 9, the Panthers, once again, proved that their squad is built to win football games, regardless of opponent. Now a perfect 8-0 with a win against Green Bay and a three-game lead in the loss column for the NFC South title, Carolina can set its sights on a possible top seed in the conference.
4. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 6)
While the organization may argue otherwise, the Arizona Cardinals should be pleased with their performance in the first half of the season. Entering their bye week with a 6-2 record that leads the NFC West, the Cardinals have made light work of most of their opponents, and rank second in the league with a point differential of 110, trailing only the Patriots.
5. Denver Broncos (LW: 3)
In one week, the Denver Broncos went from one of the league’s most dangerous team — knocking off the previously unstoppable Packers — to just another franchise with a great record. Denver’s Week 9 loss in Indianapolis — that also featured quarterback Peyton Manning falling three yards shy of the career passing record — was a stark reminder that flaws still exist in the team — most notably, sloppy play and penalties. Even with the loss, Denver still touts the best defense in both yards and points allowed, and the Raiders’ defeat in Pittsburgh kept the Broncos’ three-game lead in the AFC West intact.
6. Green Bay Packers (LW: 5)
Is it the team or the opponent? Now losers of back-to-back games since their Week 7 bye, the Green Bay Packers have lost consecutive regular season games for the first time since November 17, 2013. Granted, the teams that beat Green Bay — Denver and Carolina — have a combined one loss in 2015, therefore allowing forgiveness to a Packers team guilty of dropping two difficult road games. Green Bay’s bigger problem is the Minnesota Vikings, with whom the Packers currently share the division lead.
7. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 8)
Just like that, the Minnesota Vikings are tied atop the NFC North. Coupled with a loss by the Packers in Week 9, the Vikings held serve against the visiting Rams and improved to 6-2. Using the tried-and-true method of defense and a strong running attack, the Vikings have proven to be one of the most underrated, but complete squads. The only concern entering Week 10 is the health of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who exited the team’s most recent game with a concussion.
8. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 7)
Not so fast, Atlanta. After an impressive 5-0 start the Atlanta Falcons have dropped three of their last four games, with only a three-point win in Tennessee. As Carolina tallies more wins, the NFC South looks more unobtainable for what is proving to still be a somewhat flawed Falcons team. Atlanta enters its bye week with a solid 6-3 record, but the team has clearly missed opportunities.
9. New York Jets (LW: 12)
When quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick left the New York Jets’ Week 8 game in Oakland, the prognosis for the team looked grim. Thankfully for New York, Fitzpatrick was able to start the Jets’ Week 9 game, and was instrumental in beating the Jaguars. As the Patriots cruise to what looks like another AFC East title, the Jets will be left seeking one of two Wild Card berths. It won’t come easily to New York, but the team should remain in contention all season.
10. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 10)
At an even 4-4, the Seattle Seahawks have the makeup of a team that could either tear through the back end of their schedule, or whimper and stumble towards the finish line. Losses in close games — only once has Seattle lost by more than four points — have routinely turned into clutch wins that keep the season alive — albeit against weaker teams — but the Seahawks entered their bye week at the right time. If this year’s squad wants to have the success of seasons’ prior, the next eight weeks will be crucial. Thankfully for Seattle, five of its remaining eight games are at home.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 13)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not going to have an easy time in 2015. As the Bengals win one game after another, the Steelers are confined to only a Wild Card chase. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, injuries at critical positions have left the squad lacking, but it has still managed to win games, regardless. This most recent injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might be the final nail in the coffin, as the team simply cannot keep surviving under these circumstances.
12. Oakland Raiders (LW: 11)
The Oakland Raiders are a legitimate contender for a playoff berth in 2015. Even with a loss in Pittsburgh in Week 9, the Raiders continue to prove their worth by playing a level of football higher than anything Oakland has produced in years. With a loss by the Broncos, the Raiders don’t actually fall any further in the AFC West, and there still is a real possibility that Oakland can climb higher in the standings.
13. New York Giants (LW: 15)
As only the New York Giants could do, they managed to play a close game against an opponent that required the defense of a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. This time, they prevailed. Now 5-4 and one-half game ahead of the Eagles atop the NFC East, the Giants face their most competitive non-conference opponent, when they hosts the Patriots in Week 10 in what has become an attention-worthy, inter-conference rivalry.
14. St. Louis Rams (LW: 9)
The St. Louis Rams had been charging towards the top of the NFC West since returning from their bye, weeks ago. With a loss in Minnesota, the Rams fall back towards the Seahawks and further behind the Cardinals, both of whom were idle in Week 9. Even with a three-point loss, the Rams are still a team in the hunt — especially on the legs of running back Todd Gurley — they just aren’t anything better, yet.
15. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 16)
With five losses entering Week 9, the Indianapolis Colts were on the verge of falling out of the top spot in the AFC South. With a home win against the Broncos, however, Indianapolis not only retained its position in the division, but knocked off a previously unbeaten team in impressive fashion. Still with a losing record, the Colts have yet to look like a playoff-worthy team, but their weak division has afforded them a second chance. They’ll need it, as the team is reportedly going to be without quarterback Andrew Luck for the next 2-6 weeks
16. Buffalo Bills (LW: 17)
Maybe it was the bye week, or maybe it was simply the matchup. Whatever the reason, the Buffalo Bills blasted the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 for the second time, this season. The win will probably do little for the Bills’ playoff hopes, as both the Jets and Patriots won, as well, but Buffalo opened the second half of its season on the right track.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 18)
While it took overtime to complete, the Philadelphia Eagles returned from their bye week to secure a much-needed division win in Dallas in Week 9. Quarterback Sam Bradford played arguably his best game in Philadelphia, while running back DeMarco Murray shouldered the load against his former team. As always, when the Eagles win, their fast-paced offense looks deadly, but they remain a 4-4 team still with work to do.
18. New Orleans Saints (LW: 14)
Same old Saints. Not the New Orleans Saints of the past half-dozen years — known to bludgeon opponents via a nearly unstoppable passing attack — but the version that has been nothing but an utter disappointment in the past two seasons. At the Panthers run away with the division, the Saints’ only hope for a successful 2015 will come via a potential Wild Card berth. There have been no indications that the team is deserving of such a reward.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 21)
For the first half of their season, the Kansas City Chiefs looked like they should have performed far better than their record. As the games ticked off their schedule and the losses piled up, it became clear that 2015 was simply going to be a lost year for the organization. The Chiefs have, however, turned in back-to-back wins prior to heading into their bye week, but it would take an upset in Denver in Week 10 to even begin to restore hope to Kansas City.
20. Washington Redskins (LW: 20)
No matter how well the Washington Redskins have played, at times, it was a non-factor when the team visited New England in Week 9. Like every other one of the Patriots’ opponents, the Redskins lost. At 3-5, Washington is anything but eliminated from the poor NFC East, and how the team plays over the next eight weeks will outweigh the losing effort of the first half of 2015.
21. Miami Dolphins (LW: 19)
There was only so long that the honeymoon could last. After winning their first two games under new head coach Dan Campbell, the Miami Dolphins have promptly dropped back-to-back road division games. The loss in Week 9 pushes Miami to the bottom of a difficult division, and likely ends all hopes of a playoff berth in 2015.
22. Houston Texans (LW: 23)
In the disaster that is the AFC South, the Houston Texans are trailing by one-half game, despite being two games under .500. Without running back Arian Foster, and with the quarterback carousel finally reaching an end — due to the release of one of the options — the Texans are somehow still alive. Make no mistake, they still aren’t any good.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 22)
While the final score of their Week 9 loss the Giants might look like a blowout, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played yet another solid football game — at least, by their standards. Excluding a fluke Giants touchdown as time expired, the Buccaneers have essentially played four consecutive competitive games, winning two of them. Regardless, Tampa Bay won’t be going too far in 2015, but it will play ‘spoiler’ for the rest of the year.
24. Chicago Bears (LW: 29)
It seems impossible based on the manner in which they started the season — an 0-3 record and outscored by nearly 20 points per game — but the Chicago Bears have now turned in five consecutive solid outings, including three wins and two field-goal losses. Of the three victories, only Oakland has a non-losing record, but the Bears were beginning to look like a catastrophically bad franchise. Instead, they are simply below average, and might actually be getting better.
25. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 24)
At this point, it won’t matter when quarterback Tony Romo returns from injury; the Dallas Cowboys are finished. At 2-7, and with five road games remaining, the Cowboys would likely need to win out for a chance a playoff berth. Based on the team’s overall performance, it appears to be impossible. The Cowboys have lost four of their last five games by a touchdown or less, so they should see a few more games turn into victories, but it won’t be anywhere near enough.
26. Tennessee Titans (LW: 30)
The Tennessee Titans might be a two-win team with little chances of success in 2015 — ironically enough, the AFC South is so putrid that the Titans are certainly not eliminated — but there should be nothing but confidence for the future of the franchise. With the return of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota from injury in Week 9, the Titans responded with an overtime win in New Orleans. If the Titans can’t find a way into the playoff picture, this year, they have already proven enough to warrant faith in 2016 and beyond.
27. Cleveland Browns (LW: 25)
Indeed, these are the same Cleveland Browns of the past decade. Even after a string of games that included two wins and three losses by no more than a touchdown, the Browns reverted back to their typically disappointing nature, losing three consecutive games by no fewer than fourteen points in each. The team started the year weak enough at the quarterback position to warrant concern, but injuries to starter Josh McCown is too much to handle, as backup Johnny Manziel is simply not getting the job done.
28. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 31)
Desperate for something to turn their season around, the San Francisco 49ers benched starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert — although there appears to also be contract obligations driving the decision, as well. In response, the 49ers won their third game of the season in Week 9, knocking off the visiting Falcons. Certainly, the win cannot be solely based on the quarterback change, as the entire San Francisco squad played its best collective game in weeks, but the 49ers will enter their bye with three wins.
29. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 28)
Thanks to the Browns losing in Week 9, the Baltimore Ravens slid out of the basement of the AFC North during their bye week. It hardly matters, as the Ravens are all but eliminated in the division chase, and would likely need a perfect record going forward in order to push for a playoff spot. It won’t happen.
30. San Diego Chargers (LW: 26)
It simply cannot possibly get any worse for the San Diego Chargers. Hosting the previously two-win Bears in a Monday Night Football game prior to the team’s bye week, San Diego still couldn’t stop its losing streak, and now has lost five consecutive games. At 2-7, the Chargers are easily one of the worst teams in the league, and will have two weeks to try to form some sort of recovery plan.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 27)
When the 2015 season ends, the Jacksonville Jaguars will have a record far worse than their actual level of play. Indeed, the Jaguars simply don’t win many games, but they are no longer an easy pushover for opponents. With the AFC South still up-for-grabs, Jacksonville can play its way into contention. It just needs to turn ‘good games’ into ‘good wins.’
32. Detroit Lions (LW: 32)
The National Football League was given a break from watching a horrible Detroit Lions team take the field in Week 9, as the team returned to London for its bye week. As the only one-win team in the league, the Lions have played at an incredibly — almost impossibly — bad level of football, despite losing close games early in the year.
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